Time is running out for Ukraine

Ukraine’s armed forces are outnumbered and outgunned.  Its Western allies are unwilling to supply troops in large numbers and are running out of guns to supply.  So it’s hard to see how the Ukrainians, however brave they may be, can keep up the fight.

Alex Vershinin, in an update of his earlier article for the UK’s Royal United Services Institute, explained:

The Ukrainians’ terrain-focused war of maneuver is constrained by two factors: limited artillery ammunition and equipment production, and coalition considerations.

Ukraine started the war with 1,800 artillery pieces of Soviet caliber.  These allowed firing rates of 6,000 to 7,000 rounds a day against 40,000 to 50,000 Russian daily rounds.  By now this artillery is mostly out of ammunition, and in its place Ukraine is using 350 Western caliber artillery pieces, many of which are destroyed or breaking down from overuse.

Meanwhile, Western nations are themselves running out of ammunition; the U.S. is estimated to produce only 15,000 155mm shells a month.  This constraint has forced Ukraine to adopt mass infantry formations focused on regaining territory at any cost.  Ukraine simply cannot go toe to toe with Russia in artillery battles…[snip]

Ukraine’s second constraint is the coalition nature of its warfare.  Since running out of its own stocks, Ukraine is increasingly reliant on Western weaponry.  Maintaining the Western coalition is crucial to the Ukrainian war effort.

Without a constant string of victories, domestic economic concern may cause coalition members to defect.

If Western support dries up due to depletion of stock or of political will, Ukraine’s war effort collapses for lack of supplies.

In some ways, Ukraine has no choice but to launch attacks no matter the human and material cost…[snip]

The Achilles heel of this strategy is manpower. Ukraine started the war with 43 million citizens and 5 million military-aged males, but according to the U.N., 14.3 million Ukrainians have fled the war, and a further 9 million are in Crimea or other Russian-occupied territories.

This means Ukraine is down to about 20 million to 27 million people.  At this ratio, it has less than 3 million draftable men.

A million have been drafted already, and many of the rest are either not physically fit to serve or occupy a vital position in the nation’s economy.  In short, Ukraine might be running out of men, in my view.

This is not the accepted view in the West.  Ukrainians claim it is the Russians that are suffering the greatest casualties and equipment losses and that, in fact, the Russians soon will run out of weapons.  I can’t prove these claims are wrong, but, if they are, the Russians are excellent bluffers.  

Moreover, as Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism explained, Ukraine is short of cash as well as men and weapons.

Ukraine is dependent on the West to fund its government, giving new meaning to the expression “client state”.  Ukraine’s GDP contraction is estimated to be on the order of 35-40 percent for 2022.  Ukraine in November projected its 2023 budget deficit to be $38 billion.

Mind you, that is for essential services and is likely to underestimate the cost and knock-on effects of dealing with Russia’s attacks on its electrical grid.  Again, before the grid strikes, the IMF had estimated Ukraine’s budget needs at $3 billion to $4 billion a month.  It’s an easy bet that that $38 billion funding gap will easily come in at more than $50 billion.

And paying for teachers’ salaries, pensions, road repair, hospitals, are not the sort of thing that enriches the military-industrial complex.  This is a huge amount for the West.  Euronews, in discussing the then estimated $38 billion hole, strongly hinted Ukraine would come up short.

Vershinin concluded:

Wars of attrition are won through careful husbandry of one’s own resources while destroying the enemy’s.  Russia entered the war with vast materiel superiority and a greater industrial base to sustain and replace losses.  They have carefully preserved their resources, withdrawing every time the tactical situation turned against them.

Ukraine started the war with a smaller resource pool and relied on the Western coalition to sustain its war effort.  This dependency pressured Ukraine into a series of tactically successful offensives, which consumed strategic resources that Ukraine will struggle to replace in full, in my view.

The real question isn’t whether Ukraine can regain all its territory, but whether it can inflict sufficient losses on Russian mobilized reservists to undermine Russia’s domestic unity, forcing it to the negotiation table on Ukrainian terms, or will Russian’ attrition strategy work to annex an even larger portion of Ukraine.

I don’t think the Russians are in a mood to negotiate anything with Ukraine except terms of surrender.  

Russia may be in a position to win a war of attrition, but I don’t think the majority of Russians are willing to wait.  All those troops that are now being mobilized will be sent into action.

The Ukraine ground war will likely be decided before the end of the year.  That doesn’t mean there will be peace between Russia and Ukraine, let alone between Russia and the Western alliance.  What’s more likely is that there will be a frozen conflict without any peace treaty, just as in the Korean Conflict

And however the fighting war in Ukraine turns out, it won’t end the larger war, the global economic war between Russia and the Western alliance.


Ukraine: When Will It Reach the End of Its Propaganda Line? by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

What’s Ahead in the War in Ukraine by U.S. Lt. Col. Alex Vershinin (ret) for Russia Matters.

We’ve Reached Peak Zelensky – Now What? by Robert Freeman for Common Dreams.

Ukraine – The Big Push to End the War by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

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